Air after a Fire

And the air
Was like the air after a fire, or before a storm,
Ungodly still, but full of dark shapes turning.

—Brigit Pegeen Kelly, “The Dragon”

The abduction was not Kyle’s earliest memory, but whenever he looked back on it he would think of that day as a kind of first awareness, something that swung open the gate to admit everything that followed. He was eight that October Sunday morning, and he had just that moment climbed from bed and stepped sleepily to the window. The sun was finding its path between the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the light pouring through the glass appeared as thick as a wheat biscuit, something it might be possible to grip in his hands. For Kyle, early mornings were the most forgetful time of day, some narrow aperture of time when the body was still uncertain on which side of sleep it resided, as though an entire night lying motionless could be exhausting. Leaning against the windowsill, he peered across the field for Sweetpea, and that was when he spied his neighbors.

What Kyle knew about the mother and daughter was wrapped in the gauze of being young. He might have known already that the mother was named Alice Tunning, and surely he knew that the daughter, five, was Emileigh. And he must have been aware that the two of them lived with Emileigh’s dad in the second house up Luckert Mountain, the house overlooking the valley where Kyle and his mom lived, overlooking their little yellow house and the field that comprised their side yard, where Sweetpea grazed. If Kyle had been asked to name his best friend in the world—besides his mother—he would have said the donkey. Alice was now lifting her daughter and holding her airborne, holding her like some offering to the god of morning, holding her over the fence. And Emileigh’s palm was an offering too, opening for Sweetpea, and the donkey was leaning toward that palm with an almost prayerful reverence, and snaring a morsel that might have been anything. An apple slice? A carrot?

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